Evolving Tradition of Waste-to-Art: The Nigerian Experience

Dr. Ayodeji Adewunmi

Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu, Nigeria

The traditional African society thrived on sustainable artistic professionalism. Art played a significant role in all facet of the society. Household objects were not merely utilitarian in nature but also aesthetically decorated, traditional architectures were absolutely works of art, from the general design to the doors, windows, walls and objects Even articles of worship were works of creativity. To the traditional African society, art was life and life was art, the traditional people placed a premium on the aesthetic nature of objects. Pottery, basket weaving, carving, painting, fabric weaving and design, mural and poetry were trades that occupied daily activities of the traditional African people. However, most of the aesthetic creations were products of natural materials. Dyes made from leaves were used by the Yorubas of the southwest for dying fabrics. The traditional Uli mural painters of the eastern Nigeria paints the mud walls “with earth colors numbering about four” (Ikwuemesi 2005). Wall decoration was also a tradition practiced among the Yorubas. The Yagba people (of present day Kogi State) in the traditional period painted the interior of their mud house with cow dung for aesthetics and as disinfectant. The art of body painting using pigments from leaves and other natural objects was a common denominator between the Hausas, Yorubas and the Igbos of the traditional period.

The use of waste as a resource for creativity was not a necessity for the traditional people, including artists and artisans, since nature provides degradable materials in abundance. Contemporary Nigerian artists did not initially subscribe to waste as a material expression. The tradition of waste-to art evolved in Nigeria evolved gradually. Historical approach was used to identify the factors that influence the introduction of waste as a resource for creativity in Nigeria.

The Industrial revolution and international trading resulting from contact with the west during the colonial and post colonial era injected new kinds of wastes into Africa. Much of these were usually not bio degradable. These waste included industrial, technology and waste from packaging products which waste constitute another challenge to the environment. In a creative response to the waste challenge, the traditional people of the post independence era adapted and modified some of the waste for reuse. Sandals were produced from used or expired car tyres, metal scraps were forged into implements and objects, toys were produced from discarded containers and so forth. This culture has continued till now.

The use of waste as a resource for mixed media creativity in modern Nigeria art did not take root until the 80s and 90s, and this is not unconnected with the history of modern Nigeria art which began with Aina Onabolu in the early 20th century. Formal academic training in art began after Onabolu studied and was certificated in London in 1922. Thereafter he returned to Nigeria to begin formal art training thereafter. Faced with the enormity of the task of teaching art in several schools, he requested for expatriates to assist. Kenneth Murray who arrived in 1927 was a product of that request. Onabolu and Murray at that initial time were the only art teachers, therefore, “the first indigenous art students and leaders needed to help accelerate the growth of the new tradition” (Oloidi 1990). Thus the birth of creative resilience which would yet reflect in the ideology of the foremost art schools in Nigeria.

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